Poetry by Sierra Leone
Music by Steven Winteregg
- Graceful (A Song for Miriam)
Most artistic endeavors start with a single thought. In the case of “Expressions,” it began with an idea that Neal Gittleman had to create an artistic work by putting music to the poetry of Sierra Leone. The poet and the composer were introduced to one another by Neal, and as the poet and composer planned, they realized that the piece needed a controlling idea to provide unity and to hold the composition together. Since the piece was commissioned by the Miriam Rosenthal Foundation for the Arts, it was a natural first step to look to Miriam Rosenthal as the unifying idea. Besides being an early administrator of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Miriam was a force of nature when it came to planning and raising money for many of the non-profits in the Miami Valley, and consequently, she seemed to be a worthy subject. In researching Miriam Rosenthal, eight words emerged that were often used to describe her: Tenacious, Graceful, Radiant, Humorous, Inspiring, Worn, Jubilant, and Dynamic. The challenge for the poet and the composer was how to turn these eight expressions, with their various meanings and moods, into a multi-movement musical piece.
“Tenacious” is conveyed by an orchestral passacaglia with its repeated and unrelenting bass line. “Graceful,” with its subtitle “A Song for Miriam,” is the only direct reference to Miriam Rosenthal in the entire piece. It features a solo for soprano with orchestral accompaniment as well as a part for poet. “Humorous” is composed for chorus and orchestra while “Inspiring” features the poet with orchestra. “Worn” reflects the end of Miriam’s life and her battle with cancer, and it is written for Soprano, Poet, Choir, and Orchestra. This movement moves without break into the next section, “Jubilant.” The final movement, “Dynamic,” is written for orchestra alone and provides a positive and triumphal ending to Miriam’s life and to the piece.
The entire composition was created with the poet and the composer closely interacting with one another. The piece, with its many moods and styles, ends up being a work that could have only resulted from this unique collaboration. Their joint effort ended up being the perfect reflection of how Miriam Rosenthal worked and collaborated in the Dayton area.
Poetry by Sierra Leone
Graceful (“Miriam: The Prophetess”)
has found a home
the essence of your lived generosity
is befitting for infinite moments of inspiration
A visible force
holding the fragility of embraced mortality
and stunning wonder of humanity to the light
A prism of grace and mercy
hands of service crossing imaginary limitations
dimensions of resilience, legacy shifted
doubt dwindled in the presence of your gentle brilliance
Exhaustion has no end
you were fresh water to parched spirits
dreams do come true when remembered
shining like the newness of a day lived in appreciation
A divine message delivered our Gem City’s Saint and beloved citizen.
Radiant (Excerpt from “In Radiance”)
Pirouetting like a summer’s day turned
sun lite shimmering snowflake,
light angel, ancient with enchanting ways,
an electrifying blessing counted
the gift of kinship
regal gentle, heavenly radiance
just like music
I bend to the beat of my creativity
innovate when all else fails
stand strong in the midst of madness
I know my play and my place
Hear that, it’s my music, it’s…my music
Inspiring (Excerpts from “Educational Advocate”)
You are the woman
who took a swimmer’s breath
dove deeply into what you believed
manifested dream catcher’s energy
and used it to embrace humanity
I am not sure,
if it was your elegance or sophistication
authentic style or smile
maybe it was your invitation to choose greatness
that pushed those you led to excellence
It is not every day that you meet a human being
whose natural beauty is just as amazing
as her milestones of transformation and leadership
For those who appreciate you,
the footprints in the sand
are memories of you walking hand and hand
With those of us that you have led and prepared
Worn (“Weather Worn”)
The sun does not shine always
But it does shine.
There may be shady days
But the clouds will pass
Laughter will prevail
Even when the cries are overbearing.
Valleys share the same space
as mountain tops
I wonder about the things some do in the dark.
Mask the scars,
Arm yourself with righteous deeds,
No matter how it reads
Death is more than a cousin to sleep
My friend honesty hasn’t forgiven me.
I’ve told the same story 2wice.
Watering a dead plant
Stops new heartache
No, the sun does not shine always
But it does shine
There may be shaded days
But the clouds will pass
Jubilant (Excerpts from “Dare to Imagine”)
I am an empowered opulent yes!
hear waves of awareness integrating my focused intention,
see my inner authority reigning supreme.
turn my inherited burdens into legacy shifted blessing,
I wonder if happiness is the side effect of knowing what I believe.
I am an empowered opulent yes!
I pretend that harmony making love to joy
is my authentic being, dressed as royalty.
stimulating thoughts that birth seeds of prosperity
I live life as art
feel the positive energetic invitation surrounding me
touch a blooming flower and remember tomorrow.
(Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1949; died in Towson, Maryland in 2019)
2. Alla marcia
American composer Christopher Rouse’s music is wonderfully expansive – frisky, rock-n-roll-ish, wildly colorful, rage-filled, gentle – and consistently excellent. He mainly wrote large-scale works for big orchestras with a long roster of percussion instruments – festivals of volume and color, and pathos. Having won a Grammy and a Pulitzer, among many other awards, Rouse was highly sought-after for commissions. Such was the case with his Flute Concerto (1993), which was jointly commissioned by flutist Carol Wincenc and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It’s become a staple for flutists since its 1994 premiere.
The Concerto is, largely, a celebration of Rouse’s Celtic heritage, but in its hefty middle (third) movement, Elegia, Rouse detours and gives a deeply emotional expression to a horrible murder that made world news in 1993, the year of the Concerto’s creation. The first and fifth movements are the outer bookends of the Concerto and are expressions of transcendental wandering. Rouse titled both of these movements Amhrán, the Gaelic word for “song.” In the first movement, the solo flute wanders and bares its tender soul above gracefully luminous chords. Rouse’s writing here is agreeably tonal and straight-forward to our ears, but, the musical score shows something different: the meters change every bar (the opening bars in succession, for example, are 5/4, 5/8, 7/8, 3/4, 7/8, 4/4, 2/4, 3/4 and so on) and the rhythms for the soloist are metrically intricate and complex. But it’s an incantation, creating the effect of drifting clouds. Rouse wanted to evoke, as he put it, “a more spiritual, even metaphysical, manner through the use of extremely slow tempi, perhaps not unlike some of the recordings of the Irish singer Enya.” And indeed, the first movement drifts by in a kind of numinous bliss.
With no breaks between movements, the second movement march (Alla Marcia) breaks in on this trance with jarring volume. This is a typical Rouse-ian bit of fun and fright. Everything is delightfully fractured. As the flute tries with valor to play a dance-like jig, the tempo and the orchestral interruptions are too much for such a thing. After about a minute and a half, a wonderfully quirky trio occurs, between the piping flute, the bone rattling snare drum, and the muscular and manic timpani. There are more percussive effects to come – in about one more minute, listen for the brittle-sounding “rute” (“roo-tah”), a swatch of sticks strapped together and, as directed in the score, slapped “against the [percussionist’s] thigh” in a short rhythmic solo. Glissandi and colors abound throughout the rest of the movement, and though eventually the flute and orchestra coalesce as partners, listen for the virtuosity of the solo flute part.
In the Classical tradition of Concertos, the middle movement is typically slow and emotionally weighty. As Rouse came to this point in composing his Flute Concerto, a tragic event unfolded in Britain. Two boys, barely 10-years old each, abducted, tortured, and murdered a two-year old boy named James Bulger, and left his body to be mangled on some railroad tracks. Rouse was so deeply horrified by the event that he felt compelled to give homage to the young victim by crafting this third movement as an elegy for him. Using his Concerto’s slow movement as the place for this elegy seems to have struck Rouse as his humanitarian duty:
“In a world of daily horrors too numerous and enormous to comprehend en masse, it seems that only isolated, individual tragedies serve to sensitize us to the potential harm man can do to his fellow. For me, one such instance was the abduction and brutal murder of the two-year old English lad James Bulger…. I followed this case closely during the time I was composing my [Flute] concerto and was unable to shake the horror of these events from my mind. The central movement of this work is an elegy dedicated to James Bulger’s memory, a small token of remembrance for a life senselessly and cruelly snuffed out.”
This third movement Elegia is much more than a dirge, however. Rouse captures the emotional spectrum of tragedy: the grief, the resignation, the terror and anguish, and the need for hope and resolution. After a stark opening with a haunting bassoon solo, the flute then continues its singing, both in and out of harmonic step with the orchestra. At about 7 minutes into this movement, a main theme emerges for a second time using the timpani, tuba, contrabassoon and Double basses for the bass line. It’s filled with hope, housed in simple tunefulness, and slowly builds to a monumental majesty – but it’s fleeting. The moment is caved in by an orchestral scream of shattering grief. The movement ebbs away after this, returning to the lonely bassoon, then a gentle fade into the following movement.
Retreating from elegiac darkness back toward the light, the fourth movement, Scherzo, returns to Rouse’s British Isles heritage. It’s a flight of peculiar fancy in the garb of a jig. At first, soloist and orchestra dance together, trading phrases and jigging in step, in an off-kilter kind of fun way, with occasional sonic outbursts. Rouse’s orchestration is a continuing delight here. For example, at about one minute into the dance, the trumpets are muted (a cone is inserted into the instrument’s bell, creating a nasal effect) and quietly quack out a dancing rhythm, while the flutist rhapsodizes above. Shortly after this comes a moment of sheer whimsy – above metallic rhythms form the percussion, three flutes, along with the soloist, erupt as though a thousand birds are taking sudden flight. But things begin to get out of hand. The orchestra wanders into its own mad dance, layering multiple kinds of rhythms on top of each other (and this is surely a nod to Stravinsky’s modern ballet, The Rite of Spring), until everything finally spills over into the kind of jig we’ve been expecting to hear. Except, as Rouse puts it, “by the time the jig is stated in its most obvious form, the tempo has increased to the point that the music seems almost frantic and breathless.” The last bars feature the soloist catching its breath directly into the finale.
The last movement, like the first, is also a Celtic Amhrán. Whereas the first movement was more of an improvisation over atmospheric chords, though, this finale is truly song-like, and meltingly beautiful. Rouse wrote, just before his death, that “…music has this miraculous power for me”, and in this masterful Flute Concerto, one can’t help but hear Rouse’s adoration of that power.
Program Notes © Max Derrickson
(Born in Bologna, Italy in 1879; died in Rome in 1936)
Pini di Roma (“Pines of Rome”), P. 141
1. I Pini di Villa Borghese (The Pines of the Villa Borghese) – Allegretto vivace
2. Pini presso una Catacomba (Pines near a Catacomb) – Lento
3. I Pini del Gianicolo (The Pines of the Janiculum) – Lento
4. I Pini della Via Appia (The Pines of the Appian Way) – Tempo di marcia
Respighi was one of Italy’s most celebrated composers in the early years of the 20th C. He was also a teacher and musicologist (particularly, the study of ancient music). And he was a surprise musical prodigy – though he was enrolled with music tutors as a boy, he didn’t tolerate their structure and showed little promise. But at around the age of nine, his father discovered that Respighi had secretly taught himself to play Robert Schumann’s dauntingly virtuosic piano work Symphonic Etudes. In 1900, he landed a job as principal violist with the St. Petersburg Imperial Theater in Russia, where he studied composition and orchestration with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Respighi was prolific, rarely without a major musical project to occupy himself, and, though little known, he was a polyglot – fluent in 11 languages.
By the time Respighi composed his masterpiece tone poem in 1924, Pines of Rome, he had achieved fame in 1916 with his first large Rome-based tone poem, Fountains of Rome. A third would follow in 1928, Roman Festivals, creating what would later be called his “Roman Trilogy.” Each work captures a particular aspect of the Eternal City – the Pines of Rome being a visitor’s guide to Rome by way of its iconic, and plentiful, stone pine trees that grow there. Every vista in that fabled city incorporates these beautiful trees with their umbrella tops – standing like sentinels to the history that has passed by there, and, adding a gracefulness to Roman living. With these pines as Respighi’s guide, we visit Rome and its surroundings at present and in history. To help us along, Respighi wrote evocative narratives about each of the four movements (shown below in italics).
1. The Pines of the Villa Borghese: Children are at play in the pine groves of the Villa Borghese, dancing the Italian equivalent of “Ring around a Rosy.” They mimic marching soldiers and battles. They twitter and shriek like swallows at evening, coming and going in swarms. Suddenly the scene changes.
Respighi’s wife, Elsa, grew up in Rome and played in the gardens at the Villa Borghese – built on one of the Seven Hills of Rome, and looking out across its magical cityscape. Elsa sang for Respighi some of the children’s folk songs that she and her playmates loved. Respighi, a devotee of ethnographic music (folk music) and the music of antiquity, intertwined these songs into the melodic texture of this movement. Listen especially, too, for the wonderfully kaleidoscopic splashes of color that continually burst into the musical fabric.
2. The Pines Near a Catacomb: We see the shadows of the pines, which overhang the entrance of a catacomb. From the depths rises a chant, which echoes solemnly, like a hymn, and is then mysteriously silenced.
The catacombs are a lonely place. Inside they smell of ancientness and mustiness, and the walls crowd uncomfortably close. Outside, the Roman countryside is calm and bucolic, shadowed by majestic pines, and yet, the catacombs below the green fields seem to quietly haunt the world above. At the beginning, Respighi creates mysterious, brooding music, cast in the low registers, which slowly sinks below the earth. Muffled horns (muted with cones) give remnants of early church chants. Together the tam-tam (a gong), low notes on the piano, and harp provide soft washes of somber color. A lonesome trumpet solo emerges, marked to be played “sweetly and expressively, as distant as possible.” The atmosphere here is some of the most lovely and redolent music that Respighi created. What comes next, however, a chant-like ostinato (repeating figure) that grows in strength, is some of the most fervently stirring music in the work.
3. The Pines of the Janiculum: There is a thrill in the air. The full moon reveals the profile of the pines of Gianicolo’s [Janiculum] Hill. A nightingale sings.
Janiculum Hill is just outside the boundaries of what was ancient Rome, just west of the Tiber River. Today it’s renowned for having one of the most spectacular views of the city. Respighi captures the Hill in the perfumed quiet of night, with atmospheric chords in the strings and the soft ringing of the celeste (a keyboard instrument that strikes bell plates with soft hammers). Invoking the silhouettes of the mighty pines against the moonlight is captured with one of the composer’s most memorable melodies in the clarinet.
But in ancient times, Janiculum was also where the cult of Janus was centered. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings, duality, transitions, and endings. Respighi clearly chose him as a symbol representing his tone poem, in which time cycles from present to past, and day cycles to night and sunrise. Janus’s hill was also the preferred place for the augurs (Roman priests) to take the auspices – the practice of interpreting the will of the gods through observing the flight behavior and song of birds. This movement musically evokes that auspicious practice with a delightful irony, as well as one of the most splendid surprises in Classical music. Respighi uses actual birdsong in the movement, by playing a phonograph recording of a nightingale – a moment where the distant past meets 1920’s cutting-edge technology. Musically, it’s a most magical moment, drifting out of the hush of night, into a stirring of the air with trembling strings, and the night bird’s wistful song, just before sunrise.
4. The Pines of the Appian Way: Misty dawn on the Appian Way. The tragic country is guarded by solitary pines. Indistinctly, incessantly, the rhythm of unending steps. The poet has a fantastic vision of past glories. Trumpets blare, and the army of the Consul bursts forth in the grandeur of a newly risen sun toward the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph the Capitoline Hill.
This finale is likely the most famous movement in Respighi’s oeuvre, and rightly so. Out of the tranquility of bird song from Janiculum, a distant menace advances. Rising out of a softness of Janiculum’s colors emerges an ostinato evoking an inexorable march of Roman soldiers. The Appian Way, an ancient road that connected Rome to the southern parts of Italy, was particularly lined with stone pines. Here, they bear witness to the triumphant Consular legions marching back to Rome. Along the way, short new musical motives are added to the growing tapestry of sound. At about 2 ½ minutes into the march, a theme begins that will dominate the remainder of the work. First in the woodwinds, then soon taken over by the brass, which now includes six buccine (an ancient military heralding horn), though today, newer brass instruments typically substitute. At this point, Respighi begins to add so many instruments – for example, organ is added for more power – and the volume grows so magnificently, that our spines begin to tingle. The intensity continues to mount until the very last chords, ending, inarguably, one of the most exhilarating finales in music.
Program Notes © Max Derrickson